Max Verstappen wins pole over Lewis Hamilton in U.S. Grand Prix qualifying thriller

F1 COTA pole Verstappen
Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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AUSTIN, Texas — Formula One’s dramatic title race took another turn when Max Verstappen edged title rival Lewis Hamilton for the F1 pole at COTA, where the seven-time champion Hamilton has dominated.

Hamilton has won the U.S. Grand Prix five times at Circuit of The Americas, and the Mercedes team was supposed to have the edge over Red Bull at this event.

But it was Verstappen, the points leader, and fan favorite Sergio Perez who dominated qualifying and the Red Bulls flanked Hamilton headed into Sunday’s race.

Verstappen won the pole at the buzzer by 0.209 seconds.

It was a dramatic battle for pole in their season-long tussle for the championship, and set up a tense start to Sunday’s race when Verstappen and Hamilton will sprint to the first uphill turn.

Given their history of race-changing collisions already this season – they’ve wrecked twice during a race and on Friday in practice Verstappen flipped his middle finger and called Hamilton a `stupid idiot’ – the fight for the lead should be fierce.

Since the track opened in 2012, the winner has come from the front row every time.

Valtteri Bottas, in the other Mercedes, couldn’t wedge ahead of Perez and qualified fourth.

The race was canceled last year by the COVID-10 pandemic, and enthusiastic crowds have turned out for Formula One in its return.

Race organizers expected 120,000 fans for Saturday qualifying, and a sold-out 140,00 for Sunday’s race. That crowd would qualify as one as one of the largest for a sporting event since the start of the pandemic. It likely will be the most well-attended motorsports event in America this year (topping the Indy 500, which was held in front of a limited capacity crowd).

The crowd was loudest for Perez, who is from Guadalajara, Mexico and has called the U.S. Grand Prix a second “home” race for him outside the Mexican Grand Prix in two weeks.